The Great Game Jam Adventure – January 2022

I’m reporting back from many days working nonstop on two game jam games. The most intense phase of developing is over, so I’m in a position to write again.

What is a game jam? A game jam is a community event where you form teams of coders, artists, musicians, writers and any other game dev role that you feel you need and develop small games on a tight deadline. The deadline is so tight to enforce small project sizes and that you have a huge incentive to finish quickly. Also, most jams have a general theme or set out some design constraints like what game genre you can work in or even what colors you can use.

One of my new year’s resolutions was to take part in at least one game jam every month to collect some experience as a dev and meet more fellow devs. So far I got everything I was hoping for and then some. It was actually an accident that I got into two at the same time, but everything worked out just fine. I might go into detail about each project in future entries.

The most important thing I learned was a new understanding of time and what it takes to finish a project for me. I am impatient and ambitious by nature. I want big results, which is good, but I want them too quickly. Things truly take time and it can take days or longer to solve a certain problem, even if you really do everything you can imagine to solve it immediately. So I get frustrated with my projects too quickly and too thoroughly, more than would be necessary while overworking myself. Then I burn out and abandon them. This is not even a critique, rather a plain observation of what is going on. With the games I had other people balance me out or my work being cut out in a way that overworking wasn’t even possible. Now my next goal is to adjust my solo process so that I work at a sustainable pace even when no help by others is available right now. I don’t have to be perfect or try to change my personality entirely, I just have to be smart about playing towards my strengths.

And I learned that I definitely want to do more game development in the future!

Literature Notes #004

My notes as a reader on:

Schumann(ed.) – „Grundlagen und Techniken der Schreibkunst“ – chapter on poetry

I am by far not done digesting, practising and reading up more on the previous chapters of this fantastic book. Yet I must keep reading, as the act of getting to know the craft of writing alone has opened so many new doors for me already.

I was a bit hesitant about the chapter on poetry. It seems so alien to anything that’s in my typical media diet. I have read and admired poetry before, school made me and in latest years I just came to appreciate the beauty of it just for itself, but that was it. Enjoying it from a distance. When I read about how to make, not just analyze, poetry from Schumann’s perspective today, the result was different than anything I had expected. Everything laid out reminded me of a programming language. Everything makes sense, but you will need some time and quite some practise to really memorize and understand the language ruleset you are given and the effects it will cause. I did not expect language to have such a mathematical level. Your recipient is a human being, not a machine, so you have more room for willful ambiguity and vagueness. But if you want to go to the extreme, you can break language down to the very noises you make and what you can say within a breath, utilizing language to it’s fullest like probably no other form of literature can.

I can see why it is absolutely worth it practising poetry, even if you have no aspirations to ever become a poet. I want to get to know both German and English that intimate, and possibly other languages later if I get to get to know them to a sensible level. We are using language every day utilizing only a fraction of what language can do. Imagine all the fun to be had just by knowing more about it!

SPREY Log #26 – Ingame Books and Fan Dragons

Welcome back, everyone!

My life is moving so fast right now. Currently, „Your Land“ has it’s first anniversary. Organizing the subevents and celebrating with the community is keeping me busy, as well as a few smaller commissions. And yes, there is pressure, but I’m learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable as they say.

I’ve mentioned last blog post already how I let go and went programming for a while, let go of everything (that is not the same as giving up) then realized „less is more“. I have then also tested this new paradime already by writing several ingame books in Your Land. Our game has this amazing feature where players can copy and paste a text up to 10.000 signs into an ingame book. My husband had even collected most of the past books written by players into a library. It was in an okay state when I took it over, but now with me as a driving force behind caring for the library and encouraging players to write new fun books at all occassions, the amount of books is skyrocketing, and so is the number of readers and writers, and the library is thriving. We have an organically grown literature scene now. I have heard from others again and again what I have learned ingame as well. „I had no idea how fun writing can be!“ We have all just forgotten how fun it is.

These ingame books are my playground, my experimental ground to finally stretch and strengthen my writing muscles far enough to get to a state where I can write a finished anything. You can do a lot with 10.000 signs it turns out. I don’t think any of my ingame books even scratch at that limit, I’m rather comfortable at 1.000 signs. Everytime I finish an ingame book though, something magical happens. Something in me listens up, realizing me and storytelling is not a lost cause, adding more curiosity, confidence and just a bit more ambition to the next work.

The next benefit of practising my writing in a videogame is that I get to experience a whole pipeline from idea of the book to finding the book on the shelves in a relatively self-contained, secure environment without added costs. Yes, even in a game where less forces than on the actual market are influencing what is read you have to advertise your stuff. You still have to proofread and edit and offer this service to other writers, too, in exchange, as none of you get paid. You still have to finish things. You still have to show up to write on the regular. You have to make the time to do all of this. And what I also had to do was to learn how to socialize at all. I think I finally got over the bump with that. I am running a well known Candy Shop in the game’s spawn city. And none of the players would believe my old shy „true self“ that isn’t true anymore. And no, this is actually not a case where I’m confident on the internet alone, it already crossed back over into the real world. Streaming works better than ever for me and I enjoy the resulting conversations a lot.

And it is actually true, if you have finished a couple of stories, your perspective on writing is changing up. You have more of a grid to work from in your head. It’s easier to keep the structure of the work together mentally as you’ve already worked through some of them in their entirety before. And having a good theme, really having something to say, doesn’t seem that difficult and abstract anymore, too. That was actually one of the things I learned fastest. Writing 1.000 signs is not hard, you can do it in a day or two. Writing 1.000 signs that give a meaningful or even pleasing experience to both reader and writer, that is harder. When you are thinking to yourself „Why bother?“ your current work probably does not have enough substance yet. For me, the fun at trying new things and testing how far my writing can go within the constraints has soon and quickly taken over.

I think my stream even taught me something very important the past days. I met Shiro4K, an old friend, again who now streams videogames now. He told me an anecdote from the day he met me in 2016, that I had forgotten myself. I was tabling at a convention and he jokingly asked me to draw something I had never drawn before. So I asked the tabling artist next to me for a fan you can draw on yourself and drew a dragon. I saw a photo of it, it doesn’t even look like it was drawn by me, but still works. That taught me something very important about myself, that I haven’t figured out without the reflection from others. Apparently I was never one for a uniform look of the art. I am rather one that relentlessly experiments, always moving forward and shaking perceived own limits. And it is fun being around me when I am like this. You can shake your head and go „what is she up to now?“. Let’s admit, that dragon could have gone terribly wrong, especially with my limited skillset back then compared to today. I was drawing it live on a convention. A stunt like that requires bravery. Apparently there’s more of it in me than I tend to show nowadays. It turns out again and again that I was worrying about the wrong things all along. I’m currently writing a sonnet written by an orc (with orc grammar and everything, but still attempting to keep up with the rhyme scheme and structure). I can’t say I’m good at poetry, but I’m taking the challenge. I am exactly the right person for something like this.

And now comes the clue, I’m not writing this down for the sake of me. But this gave you a taste of an authentic Styxcolor, maybe even just a glimpse of it. And if people hear about other people being authentic, it tends to encourage them to show a bit more of themselves, too. People do appreciate you when you show yourself. Go out there, try it, even on a small scope. You will probably not want ot miss it again. If you need to write books in a videogame to figure out and work on your true skill level, so be it. I bet there’s other venues to get started or repair your skillset as a storyteller, too. See you out there!

SPREY Log #18 – Anatomy of a Failure

My friends! It’s rare that something happens, that is so big, that it changes the course of your life or at least strongly affects your future decionmaking. Today I’m sharing with you, how a humble anatomy study taught me who I am and how I work and gave me a clearer perspective on what to do with my webcomic. Especially ambitious and impatient artists and storytellers, listen up, this one is for you. Hopefully sharing this experience saves you some time on your own journey or makes you want to pick it up again.

Failing at an anatomy study…

Yesterday, after a long time of abstinence, I sat down to do a study of the skeleton and muscles of the upper body and then do a painted study of the reference on top. I haven’t done such a study ever before. I was aware you can dissect a reference image like that, but I haven’t ever done it. I managed to study easier things around that but never go in that deep. And I’m not experienced at painting at all. I always liked anatomy though. It’s that good, quiet friend who’s always looking out for you, but never saying anything when you neglect them. So with a good dose of confidence and an ‘if it gets tough I’ll just keep fighting’ mindset I started translating my reference image into skeleton. So far so good, with the help of a lot of references I understood things enough to make it work. I congratulated myself that I didn’t try to do a full body and only stayed with this scope. But I had a sophisticated hand pose in stock for myself, I don’t want to study anything, I want to study the best and most aesthetic things. My luck ended with the muscle layer though. If you have several layers of them, don’t have rock solid knowledge of their functions, looks and origins and the anatomy references do not differentiate what is an “important” muscle and what is not …this gets overwhelming. I somehow made it through the chest and rectus abdominus, I surely left a whole group of muscles out on the side, but I couldn’t imagine them in 3D and on my model. But with the arms, it absolutely ended for me. Too much information, too confusing, muscles look absolutely different bent and from an angle than on the flat diagrams of the anatomy book. And not only that, the overload was so real I stopped drawing for the day and just went away to do some chores. I wasn’t in pain or anything, I just was exhausted mentally and did something else for the rest of the evening. Later I sat down to sort my thoughts through writing. Then it struck me that I know this feeling of overwhelm and this specific pattern of struggling.

…and finding the experience mirrored in the SPREY experience

Wasn’t SPREY the same experience on a larger scale?
I haven’t done a comic of this kind ever before, actually, there are so so many firsts in there for me, like sci-fi cars and various kinds of combat, even combat on motorcycles. When I started out I didn’t even have the capacity to draw a whole page with several panels. Also something like a character turnaround was three chapters away. And of course, I couldn’t paint. I couldn’t and can’t even write long scripts. I was lacking more on the color and light front than today, making any rendering a game of luck. From today’s perspective, my style was never the problem, my lack of knowledge and inexperience was.
I always liked the subject matters I wanted to tackle in SPREY though. Who doesn’t like cool action scenes? Which synthwave fan wouldn’t enjoy an 80ies inspired, retrofuturistic and extremely eyepleasing slasher romance?
So with a good dose of I need to draw this or my life makes no sense and an “if it gets tough I’ll just keep fighting” mindset I started making SPREY, one panel a day. That worked for two chapters. And with a ton of sweat, research and effort I made it through two chapters. I congratulated myself that SPREY is not a twelve volume tale, but only a one-shot. But of course, SPREY is an extremely ambitious project with new and ever more complex things waiting around the corner for me to draw. I don’t want to spend my time with creating anything, I want to create the things that are important to me and that look most aesthetic pleasing and stunning to me. My luck ended with the third chapter though, when things became more real and panels became pages. I got good enough to tackle more difficult environments, I started to design and draw vehicles, perspective and light got more complex. But I still had no clue about so many things, I was constantly overwhelmed. Other than with the anatomy study I didn’t have one day where I just exhausted myself, it happened a lot of times. I had an art block and life crisis after every chapter, later in chapter three I wanted to escape my torment after quite some of the complex pages. But I kept fighting until even I ran out of energy and sent SPREY into hiatus. Then I wasn’t in pain at all, I could just go about my day and do anything else. And then indeed I started looking for what was wrong. First I looked into books like Invisible Ink to find out about invisible armatures behind things, then my search for answers lead me far away from SPREY…and it lead me here, where the circle closes.

Conclusions

What I learn from it, I’m a stubborn and hard worker and I must have an incredible pain tolerance. This can absolutely play out against me when I keep going too deep into something. On the other hand I can cultivate this like a superpower when catching up again. And it did pay off to keep fighting, I did improve over time and gained some experience with SPREY, that no one can take away from me again. But a very real crisis after every chapter or now in the middle of a chapter? That is just not a way to live. And it is unnecessary. Why? I think I can deduce what to do with SPREY from the smaller scale anatomy study. The failed anatomy study didn’t worry me at all. If it doesn’t work today, you come back tomorrow, do a series of smaller anatomy studies to build up the knowledge and competence to tackle the more complex one. Don’t get yourself into a loop where you are just training, just preparing all the time but never advancing with the stuff you actually want to do. And that’s it. Also, what if I choose to make a smaller anatomy study but it’s still too big for me? Well, I’ll know when I’ll fail. Then I’ll make the scope even smaller and work my way up from there. There is no ambiguity or guesswork. So that would mean for SPREY – whatever I wanted to do right now will not work like this and I can’t save it. For now. I can now break it down and tell a smaller slice of the story or even the backstory, or whatnot. Really a small story unit. Or I can do a different story. And I will know whether it is still too much for me when it doesn’t work out. So there is a potential for a cascade of failing until I get to the point where I’m really at and can work up from there as efficiently and without crisis as possible, cleaning up all the mess I caused on the way there. I don’t know about you, but that sounds great to me. And SPREY is absolutely getting done, but apparently that takes a bit longer than I anticipated. But I’m as eager to get there as always.

Turning Pro

Also- this can be applied to many other things too. Want to make a portfolio but are paralyzed on the spot? How about starting with something smaller than a whole portfolio. Want to design the coolest character of all time but having trouble drawing clothes or figures in perspective at all? Well guess what you will do first before tackling that big character design. Enjoy your cascade of failing, the rise out of it makes it even sweeter. And actually, this realization ends the original ark of this blog. I am a pro now because I have realized how to bring together my ambitions and my actual limitations. I have to respect my limitations while trying to push them. This is what I was looking for. I have turned pro in my mindset, now my skills have to follow.

SPREY Log #05 – Being the wrong person

The development of the past days made me once again reflect on my webcomic project Street Prey (SPREY). I regularly had urges to give it up, made a longer break due to a mix of burn-out and intense self-doubt in the beginning of this year, but at the same time before and after I put out a surprising amount of panels and pages for these circumstances.

And now I actually have arrived at a point where I have to say and teach something. And no, it’s not about panel composition or something purely technical. I want to talk about the mindset change I am experiencing working on a monstrous project like this. If you want to write a novel, make a really long form webcomic, an artbook or anything else of that sort yourself, maybe this can help you, too.

My creation frustration cycle

Usually it goes like this: I make an honest attempt at doing my best work with my comic, let it run for a couple of weeks where I’m constantly underwhelmed with my output both in quantity and quantity but don’t seem to be able to overcome whatever holds me back. Most of the time I cannot even name or understand what it is. Then I hit a point where everything seems pointless. Analyzing my own and my creation’s various flaws I come to the conclusion that I’m the wrong person to do this comic or a comic like this. Thinking things to their logical conclusion I then decide that I should be sensible and either do something else entirely and never do a comic again, or I should first create and finish a bunch of little things, then be ready for a bigger one later. And then I sleep a night over it, do not agree with it and start a new cycle in which I will again do my best with SPREY.

There is a couple interesting questions rising up from this, but for now let’s look at what happened at the end of the most recent cycle.

What went different this time

So I wrote on this blog that I almost sent SPREY into a hiatus again. I experienced what I described in the creation frustration cycle up to the point where I woke up disagreeing with the hiatus and started working on the next page.

So what changed?

First of all, as you are reading this right now, I have realized that I’m in a looping cycle and I’m not shy to talk about it. Various other creators might be experiencing the same or a comparable cycle right now and not have these words for it. What if they don’t know they are in a loop either, so it would be helpful for everyone to speak up about it.

Secondly, I am convinced I have a chance for a different run of the cycle this time. I did not come to the conclusion that I am the wrong person to do SPREY this time. I am still the wrong person in a sense that my skills and stamina are not up to par with where they should be to get this done in a convincing way. But I have a fair chance of getting there. I would say the past cycle began with the stormy beginning of chapter 3 in May and lasted until the page where we hear Rich’s narrator voice for the first time. A lot has happened since May. I keep working on my skills. I was able to accomplish more than I thought I could do in the field of design and illustration both paid and in personal projects. Also quite some efforts were made to improve the writing and designs in SPREY behind the curtains. So there definitely is hope.

And there is a new idea in my head.

Of course I started making SPREY as the wrong person to do so. But within a year of doing SPREY and doing things around and for SPREY I have grown enough that I am less the wrong person for it than one year ago. And I will continue to grow as a creator. What if SPREY is exactly the right project for me to do so? It entices me to do better. It frustrates me, but it never frustrates me enough to give up. I never get tired of it. I literally think about SPREY every day and it does not get boring. I might eventually have to redraw parts of the comic once I have arrived at a final form of it but this is a small sacrifice compared to giving it up and never realizing all the potential and growth I could have had chasing SPREY until the end. I believe SPREY is worth being told, it’s worth being experienced. I’m paying for learning on a premium project like this one by some moments of passionate creator despair, occasional overwhelm and other strong emotions. But I keep going and I’m getting stronger after every cycle that did not hit me out of making SPREY. Also, this time I do not want out anymore.

I have some more thoughts and ideas but I feel I would do them a disservice to squeeze them into this blog post, too, let’s go through them one by one in the next entries.

Thanks for joining me today. If you are sitting over your novel, script, own comic, videogame or other creative project right now and have hit a roadblock in the middle, know you’re not alone and consider not giving into the urge to quit. Quitting is easier than enduring the ongoing frustration and allowing yourself to change and grow. Quitting is not that worthwhile in comparison.

See you next blogpost!